Thursday, March 15, 2018

Turkey Set to Besiege Afrin City

By Elizabeth Teoman

Turkey has set conditions to besiege Syrian Kurdish-controlled Afrin City in northwest Syria. Turkey will use its military position as leverage in tripartite negotiations with Russia and Iran in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018. Turkish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces seized positions that enable them to sever the last ground line of communication to Afrin by March 15. The advance has driven tens of thousands of civilians toward terrain held by the Bashar al Assad regime and its allies. Turkey’s likely primary goal in the Astana negotiations is to reach an agreement with Russia and Iran over the future of Afrin and other Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)-held areas north of Aleppo City.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Regime Gains in Damascus, Syria: March 6 - 12, 2018

By Christopher Kozak

Pro-Bashar al-Assad regime forces including Russia and Iran successfully split the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus into three separate opposition-held pockets following the seizure of Mesraba and Madyara on March 10 – 11. The advance separated the city of Douma – the urban stronghold of Salafi-Jihadist group Jaysh al-Islam – from the densely populated suburbs of Irbeen, Zamalka, and Ayn Terma dominated by Islamist group Faylaq al-Rahman. Pro-regime forces will further intensify their targeting of civilian populations and infrastructure within these new pockets in order to coerce their surrender and achieve the forced displacement of opposition-supportive populations from Damascus.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Syria Situation Report: February 21 - March 6, 2018

This series of graphics marks the latest installment of our Syria SITREP Map made possible through a partnership between the Institute for the Study of War and Syria Direct. These graphics depict significant developments in the Syrian Civil War from February 21 - March 6, 2018. The control of terrain represented on the graphics is accurate as of March 8, 2018.

Ayad Allawi Sets Conditions to Recreate 2011 Premiership Bid

By: Omer Kassim

Key Takeaway: Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi is presenting himself as a viable Shi’a reformist alternative to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the upcoming Iraqi legislative elections slated for May 12, 2018. Allawi is setting internal conditions to recreate his strong 2011 bid to secure the premiership. Allawi– a secular Shi’a politician– seeks to reunite the Sunni political leadership under a secular platform akin to the Iraqiyya coalition that won 92 seats in the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) under his leadership in 2010. Allawi will likely leverage his opposition to the expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, reformist stance and support for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to draw Shi’a Sadrist and some Kurdish support in the post-election premier selection phase. Allawi can then maximize on his strong ties with Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, to augment his premiership bid.

Allawi is using his secular and nationalist credentials as well as his support for Sunni grievances as core pillars of his strategy to draw the Sunni vote. Allawi has arguably been the most prominent secular figure in the Iraqi political process since 2003. Allawi is highlighting his consistent secular credentials and his rejection of the sect-based division of power as major Sunni and Shi’a Islamist parties gravitate toward a secular campaign strategy. This shift coincides with an apparent public discontent with Islamist rule post-2003. The Vice President has also amplified his nationalist rhetoric, rejecting Iranian influence in Iraq and calling for the integration of the Iranian-backed PMF into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) following the defeat of ISIS. Allawi has advocated for the ability for internally displaced Sunnis to return to their homes as a condition for holding the elections. However, this is unlikely to be implemented fully due to security concerns and lack of infrastructure. Allawi has stated the Sunni communities in provinces formerly held by ISIS were the first to sacrifice for the liberation of their areas, identifying the failure in the political process as the reason for their plight.

Allawi has created the Iraqi National Alliance Coalition as a platform to unite Sunni political class under his leadership. The new coalition formed on January 11 includes CoR Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, former Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and Baathist-friendly elements outside the political process.  Jabouri is building up his secular credentials after quietly distancing himself from the Iraqi Islamic Party–closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood–to form the secular Civil Gathering for Reform. An alliance with Jabouri helps Allawi highlight popular support for secular rule, while capitalizing on Jabouri’s prominent stature to draw Sunni votes particularly in home province of Diyala as well as Baghdad. Meanwhile, the inclusion of Mutlaq–a secular Sunni and founding member of Allawi’s Iraqiyya coalition of 2011– signals Allawi’s intent to recreate a similar coalition despite the existence of power struggles between its prominent figures that eventually contributed to its collapse. The inclusion of Mutlaq also allows Allawi to draw the Sunni vote from Anbar–Mutlaq’s home province.

Allawi’s alliance is set to compete with Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi’s Iraqi Decision Coalition for Sunni votes. Allawi has been a political and ideological rival of Nujaifi since the collapse of their Iraqiyya coalition. Power sharing disputes, Allawi’s dwindling chances of securing the premiership and differences on Iraqiyya’s future strategy antagonized tensions between the two leaders and contributed to the collapse of the coalition after the 2010 elections. The rivalry also reflects regional political divisions, with Allawi backing the Saudi Arabia-Egypt axis and Nujaifi backing the Turkey-Qatar axis. Allawi also rejected Nujaifi’s push for increased autonomy of Sunni areas post-ISIS, stressing his support for Iraqi territorial integrity. Jabouri is also a major political rival of Nujaifi, as both lead competing wings within the main Sunni bloc in the CoR the Sunni Alliance of Forces. Jabouri and Nujaifi disagreed on the post-ISIS Sunni vision for Iraq. Jabouri called for facilitating talks with Shi’a parties to reach national consensus and Nujaifi called for confidence building measures on limiting Iranian influence, demographic changes in Sunni areas and freeing Sunni prisoners.  

Allawi may intensify efforts to sway support from nationalist Shi’a during post-election premiership talks. Allawi’s inability to draw cross-sectarian support particularly from Shi’a parties contributed to the failure of his 2011 bid for the premiership. He will likely look to rectify this issue by leveraging his ideological proximity to Sadrists in order to sway their support for his premiership bid. Allawi supported the 2016 Sadrist protest movement to institute anti-corruption reforms. Allawi also backed the unsuccessful Sadrist protest campaign to overhaul the electoral process through the selection of a non-politicized electoral commission and the passage of an electoral law that does not favor pre-existing dominant parties. Allawi also supported Sadrist calls for a technocratic, non-sectarian based form of government. Additionally, Allawi has joined Sadr’s identification of Iranian-backed proxies within the PMF as “shameless militias.” Allawi’s desire to maintain political independence and maneuverability likely prevented him from entering into what was expected to be a near pre-election alliance with the Sadrists.

The Vice President may seek Kurdish support for his premiership ambitions. He could do this by leveraging his historical ties with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and his support for Baghdad-Arbil dialogue to prevent further military action following the October 16 military takeover of disputed territories by Iraqi forces. Support for the Kurds during and after the September 25 2017 Kurdish referendum period came at a political cost, leading Allawi to pursue a nuanced approach to his relationship with both sides. Allawi, while deeming the timing of the Kurdish independence referendum “inappropriate,” blamed Baghdad for failing to address Kurdish power sharing concerns at an earlier stage. Allawi also blamed Baghdad for not participating in post-referendum talks that he attempted to sponsor with unidentified regional Arab countries. Allawi also stated military operations in disputed territories included the presence of Iranian forces, particularly in Kirkuk. He has appeared to dismiss Baghdad’s accusations of KDP corruption. Allawi also supports maintaining the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of the federal Iraqi budget at 17%–an agreement that he secured in 2004 during his brief tenure as Prime Minister.

Allawi may be an alternative premiership option compatible with U.S interests in Iraq. Allawi maintains friendly ties to the U.S and rejected Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs. Allawi also maintains strong ties to the KRG; he stressed the resolution of the Arbil-Baghdad disagreements must be constitutional and within the framework of a united Iraq. Allawi also maintains strong ties with U.S regional partners in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Afghanistan’s Powerbrokers Prepare for 2019 Presidential Elections

By: Scott DesMarais

Key Takeaway: Afghanistan’s powerbrokers are in the early stages of an intense competition as they prepare for the planned 2019 presidential election. The multi-month disagreement between President Ashraf Ghani and warlord and long-time Balkh Province Governor Mohammad Atta Noor over the latter’s governorship is the first stage of a much larger battle between the two politicians for the presidency. Atta is exploiting friction caused by how President Ghani wields his power to build a network of alliances to challenge President Ghani in 2019. Meanwhile, Ghani is actively using his immense presidential power to undermine Atta’s attempts to build an opposing coalition.

The Political Disputes Permitting Atta’s Rise

The internationally negotiated National Unity Government agreement that set President Ghani in place has failed to create a genuine power-sharing arrangement between the president and his opposition.

Ghani’s administration has not adhered to the terms of the internationally negotiated National Unity Government (NUG) agreement that established him as President and his Tajik rival Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Ghani has used the president’s significant constitutional authority and the vague terms of the NUG agreement to marginalize CEO Abdullah and to limit other Tajik rivals’ influence in governance.

The Ghani administration has not implemented the agreement’s required reforms aimed at ensuring transparent elections, so Ghani’s administration is repeatedly able to delay parliamentary and district council elections. Ghani has been able to postpone, on grounds of process, calling the required Constitutional Loya Jirga to convert the Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) position into a constitutionally mandated premiership.[1] Such a constitutional change would create a more balanced power-sharing agreement between Ghani and CEO Abdullah, who is Jamiat’s most senior representative in the government.

Ghani’s corruption reforms could drive Atta, Jamiat, and entrenched Pashtun powerbrokers to form an anti-Ghani coalition in order to secure the patronage networks they benefit from.  Ghani is pushing a reform agenda that is intended to combat corruption and empower government institutions over powerful regional personalities; as a result, Ghani has attempted to remove regional warlords and powerbrokers from Afghan politics—including First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta. Ghani’s anti-warlord initiatives allow Atta to build and strengthen alliances against Ghani among traditional rivals.

Atta’s coalition building

Atta is attempting to unite Jamiat under his leadership by courting other Tajik powerbrokers and by leveraging his governorship to increase Jamiat’s influence in government. Jamiat’s negotiations with President Ghani over the Balkh governorship are an effort to reset the Afghan political system in order to increase Jamiat’s power and influence in the government. Based on Jamiat’s current demands, Atta would resign from the Balkh governorship if Ghani appoints Jamiat leaders to key government positions and if Ghani alters the parliamentary system to increase the role of political parties, like Jamiat, in parliament. If Atta is able to use his negotiated resignation to force Ghani to adhere to Jamiat’s demands, Atta would accomplish what CEO Abdullah could not: getting Jamiat leaders appointed to key positions in the government. This would be an important step towards convincing the historically fractious Jamiat party to support Atta in 2019 elections.

Atta is trying to build a powerful and diverse coalition with ex-President Hamid Karzai to challenge Ghani in 2019. Atta has already created the Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan (CSA) with Dostum and Deputy CEO Mohammad Mohaqiq in June 2017. This alliance has united three minority groups, the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and a faction of the Hazaras. Atta is also trying to build alliances with Pashtun powerbrokers, most notably with former President Karzai. President Ghani prevented Atta from attending a December 2017 meeting of opposition parties in Kandahar, indicating Ghani feels threatened by Atta’s attempts to build alliances with Pashtun powerbrokers. Jamiat political figure Ahmad Wali Massoud met with Shah Wali Karzai, Hamid Karzai's brother and the head of the Pashtun Popalzai Tribe, in Kandahar on February 7, 2018. It is possible Massoud is working as an emissary for Atta, given their January 2018 meetings. Additionally, the powerful Kandahar provincial police chief, General Abdul Raziq has publicly supported Atta, who claimed he met with one of Raziq’s representatives in Mazar-e Sharif on February 23. Raziq reportedly hosted the meeting, which several former Karzai administration officials attended. One of the most prominent attendees was Rahmutallah Nabil, Karzai’s director of the National Directorate of Security and the leader of the Karzai-linked Mehwar-e Mardom party.

Atta will struggle to create an enduring and strong partnership with Former President Karzai. It is unlikely that Karzai will choose to support Ghani, but it is also unlikely that he will fully support Atta in the presidential election. Karzai cannot run for President again, but he will likely seek the best opportunity to increase his own influence within the government. He may choose to support a Pashtun, likely one who served in his administration, during the 2019 election instead of Atta. The leaders of Karzai-linked opposition groups may have presidential ambitions of their own, so it may be difficult for Atta to maintain support from these groups until 2019, especially if Karzai decides to support one of their campaigns. Additionally, traditional tensions based on past dealings with Karzai may make it difficult for Atta to convince all of Jamiat to support an alliance with Karzai.

Ghani’s efforts to undermine Atta  

Ghani can attack Atta’s fragile network of alliances in multiple ways as he prepares for Atta’s challenge. Atta will need a united Jamiat, full support from the CSA, and alliances with powerful Pashtun leaders to challenge Ghani realistically in the 2019 elections. Ghani will work to exploit intra-Jamiat tensions, the traditional rivalries between the members of the CSA, and long-lasting tensions between Karzai and most of Afghanistan’s northern power-elite. Ghani may also try to limit the appeal of Atta and Jamiat’s current proposals to alter the Afghan system of governance. If Ghani is able to secure deals with some disenfranchised powerbrokers, both inside and outside of Jamiat, he may be able to limit Atta’s ability to contend in 2019 elections.

Ghani is trying to fracture the Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan by creating tensions between its members.  Ghani is using historic tensions between Dostum and Atta and their respective political parties to weaken the CSA. Ghani reversed a decision to replace the Jamiat deputy governor of Samangan Province with a member of Dostum’s Junbesh-i Milli party after reaching a deal with Jamiat on February 20. This led the spurned Junbesh member to threaten to seize the deputy governor’s post by force. This incident demonstrates an example of how Ghani can play one CSA member against the other. Ghani also may be attempting to split Mohaqiq from the CSA, which would weaken the coalition. Ghani met with Mohaqiq in early February 2018 reportedly to build a “Council of Elders,” which may be Ghani’s attempt to create a rival coalition. Another senior member of the CSA, Mohammad Natiqi, criticized both Ghani and Jamiat for ignoring other opposition groups during their negotiations.[2] Natiqi said both Ghani and Jamiat are to blame for excluding other parties that supported CEO Abdullah in 2014 from discussions on implementing the National Unity Government Agreement. Atta will need the Uzbek and Hazara support he derives from the CSA to have a legitimate chance at winning a national election. However, Atta’s primary concern is likely to unite Jamiat and the Tajiks, so Ghani can use the political disputes this causes to reduce Atta’s support from the CSA.

Atta is engaged in a power-struggle with Jamiat’s acting-leader Salahuddin Rabbani that may weaken Atta. Afzal Hadid, a close advisor to Atta and the Balkh Provincial Council head, claimed a resolution to the Balkh dispute was close following a private meeting between Atta and representatives from Ghani’s administration in Mazar-e Sharif on March 04-05.[3] However, a Jamiat spokesman denied any negotiations between Atta and Ghani’s administration occurred, and Rabbani reportedly does not support Atta’s direct negotiations with Ghani’s administration. An anonymous source from Jamiat claimed Ghani is negotiating directly with Atta in an attempt to find an alternative solution to the Balkh dispute because multiple rounds of negotiations with Jamiat representatives, led by Rabbani, have failed to resolve the crisis. Like Atta, Rabbani may have been using his role leading Jamiat’s negotiations over the Balkh dispute to improve his own position in Jamiat by demonstrating his ability to support the party’s interests. Rabbani may want a more prominent role in Afghan politics given reports that he initially supported Atta’s removal and rumors that he is interested in a unified Ghani-Jamiat presidential ticket—presumably with himself as the Vice President. Ghani may have offered an attractive deal to Atta that Ghani believes will split Jamiat.

However, there are conflicting reports about whether Atta and Ghani negotiated a settlement or simply set conditions for Ghani-Jamiat negotiations to resume. Some anonymous sources claimed that Atta and Ghani had reached a deal. Based on the rumored agreement, Atta plans to resign but will choose his successor and a new Balkh police chief.[4] Additionally, Ghani will appoint Jamiat members as Minister of Education and Minister of Information and Culture, and Ghani will appoint six new Jamiat ambassadors to unnamed countries. In contrast, other sources claimed Atta’s negotiations had only paved the way for negations between Jamiat and Ghani to resume in Kabul.

  • If Atta and Ghani negotiated a deal, Atta would likely have expanded on Jamiat’s initial demands that sought Jamiat appointments to senior government positions.[5] While Jamiat and Atta’s demands  gradually increased to include much broader electoral and constitutional reforms, Atta may believe he can use this agreement to consolidate his control of Jamiat.[6] Ghani may believe such an agreement will exacerbate a power-struggle in Jamiat. Alternatively, Ghani may be willing to make these concessions in order to reduce the pressure stemming from the growing support for Jamiat’s reform agenda combined with upcoming parliamentary elections. The parliamentary and electoral reforms Jamiat and Atta have demanded would make it difficult to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled so this possible agreement may indicate Ghani is trying to mitigate the potential consequences of delayed elections. 
  •   If Atta set conditions for future negotiations, it would indicate limited progress, but given the broad reforms Jamiat demands, a resolution may not be imminent. This would also demonstrate that Atta is confident that Ghani will be unable to split Jamiat by offering a Jamiat faction a favorable deal to abandon Atta.
Ghani may try to counteract growing support for Jamiat’s reform agenda. Multiple parties have announced their support for the reforms Jamiat is demanding. Ghani has held separate meetings with multiple opposition leaders whose parties either already have or could ultimately support Jamiat and Atta. Ghani has met with Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, the leader of the Council for Protection and Stability in Afghanistan;[7] Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar;[8] Deputy CEO Mohammad Mohaqiq; CEO Abdullah Abdullah; and Hazara Hizb-e Wahdat leader Karim Khalili. Ghani’s office said the meetings were “to discuss issues of national interests;” however, anonymous sources claimed Ghani intended to create “Council of Elders.” It is possible Ghani is trying to constrain Atta and Jamiat by creating a rival coalition focused on implementing reforms but on terms that are more favorable to Ghani.

Ghani’s decision to release new electronic National Identity Cards (e-NICs) that include nationality could drive a wedge between several opposition groups. The Tajiks and Hazaras are opposed to including ethnicity and nationality on the cards, while Uzbeks and Pashtuns support the labels. One of Jamiat’s current negotiating demands includes the use of e-NICs that do not include nationality or ethnicity. Ghani may be able to use e-NICs to increase tensions within the CSA and, more importantly, could use ethnic tensions to block Atta from aligning with Pashtun leaders.  As an example, General Raziq said that anyone opposed to listing nationality on the e-NICs as “Afghan” should leave the country, while Atta criticized the e-NIC release on February 17.[9] Atta’s February 23 meeting with Raziq’s representative may indicate their emerging alliance can overcome the e-NIC issue but impassioned disagreements over e-NICs could pose challenges to Atta’s alliances.

Inflection Points

The ongoing Balkh dispute and continued parliamentary election delays could become inflection points that lead to an uncontrollable destabilization in Afghan domestic politics. The most likely indicator that either of these inflection points will cause significant problems is the outbreak of protests in Kabul. Atta has continually threatened to organize mass protests in Kabul unless Jamiat’s demands are met. As long as the Balkh dispute persists, large protests will remain a possibility. Atta said that it would be difficult for him to control a “massive movement from Balkh” that could lead to a crisis that caused the government to collapse.[10] Large anti-Ghani protests in Kabul increase the risk of violent confrontation between security forces and pro-Atta demonstrators, which would lead to an unpredictable escalation of tensions.  It’s also possible that repeated election delays could catalyze destabilizing protests. Many political parties demand timely and transparent elections, so the emerging anti-Ghani coalition may be able to leverage electoral delays to organize protests. Parliamentary and district council elections are still officially scheduled to occur on July 7, 2018, but Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials have admitted elections will likely be delayed until October. There are indications some parties will accept a delay to October, but any announcement that elections will not be held in 2018 could prompt destabilizing protests in Kabul. Given widespread demands for timely elections, protests over elections delays could grow so large and intense that Ghani is forced physically to resign and a transitional government is created.     


[1]Parliamentary and district council elections must be held before a Constitutional Loya Jirga can be held.
[2] Natiqi is Mohaqiq’s deputy in the Hizb-e Wahdat-e Mardom party. Natiqi is one the six signatories of the original CSA agreement in Turkey in June 2017.
[3] Atta reportedly met with the head of the National Directorate of Security, Massom Stanekzai, and the head of the Office of the President, Abdul Salam Rahimi (both of whom have been involved in the discussions with Jamiat’s representatives). Hadid said he was not aware of the details of the negotiations but said hecan say it with confidence that the door for settling the tensions has opened.” 
[4] The current Balkh police chief announced he would remain loyal to the government should the dispute escalate into a violent conflict on December 26 so Atta probably wants to appoint a more loyal commander
[5] Jamiat and Atta initially demanded Jamiat members be appointed Minster of Education, Minister of the Economy and the ambassadors to Tajikistan and Bangladesh. 
[6] Control of the Ministry of Education is a crucial concession to Jamiat because the ministry is the largest civil employer in Afghanistan and is a key component of Afghan patronage networks.
[7] The Council for Protection and Stability of Afghanistan (CPSA) consists mostly of former Karzai administration officials who had previously supported Abdullah in the 2014 election. They have previously demanded Ghani implement reforms and hold timely and transparent elections.
[8] Hekmatyar is not likely to support Atta but a faction of Hezb-e Islami supports Jamiat’s agenda and Hekmatyar has said timely elections are necessary.
[9] Afghan” has historically been used to refer to the Pashtun ethnicity.
[10] Atta was referring to protests planned to coincide with the Kabul Process meeting that he later postponed.

Russia’s Multi-Front Campaign in Ukraine

By Franklin Holcomb, Emily Markee, and ISW's Russia-Ukraine Team

Russia is intensifying its multifaceted campaign to destabilize Ukraine ahead of Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections. The Kremlin is leveraging various political and economic tools to complement its ongoing military operations in Eastern Ukraine.[1] Russia has recently expanded its operations to spread ethnic tensions in Western Ukraine in order to drive wedges between Ukraine and its partners in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin also engineered the Russian energy company Gazprom’s vindictive and abrupt disruption in natural gas supply to Ukraine.

Ukraine simultaneously faces its own internal challenges amidst stalling efforts to establish an independent anti-corruption court and other government reforms. The Kremlin will exploit the resultant domestic and international frustrations over the pace of reforms. Russia will escalate its subversive activities over the next year in order to remove the pro-Western government led by President Petro Poroshenko and empower populists and pro-Russia factions. The U.S. must take a clear stance supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and partner more closely with Kyiv to support the passage of key reforms and counter Russian subversion.

The Kremlin intensified its destabilization campaign in Western Ukraine in an effort to undermine Ukraine’s partnerships in Eastern Europe. Ukrainian officials accused Kremlin-backed groups of attacking the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Center in Uzhgorod, Zakharpatiya Oblast on February 4 and 27 to inflame local and regional tensions.[2] Zakharpatiya Oblast Governor Hennadiy Moskal accused the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of recruiting nationalists to conduct the attacks in Uzhgorod in coordination with intelligence operatives based in Russian-occupied Transnistria in Moldova.[3] Poland detained two suspects connected to the attack on February 4.[4] The suspects are reportedly tied to the far-right Polish ‘Falanga’ movement, and had fought alongside the Russian-backed separatist Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics in Eastern Ukraine.[5] These attacks against minorities are part of a wider campaign by Russia to undermine Ukraine’s relationships with Poland and Hungary. Ukrainian authorities previously arrested individuals reportedly connected to the defunct pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine who attempted to destroy a Hungarian monument in Zakharpatiya Oblast in October 2017.[6] Ukrainian and Polish government sources have also accused Russia of attempting to drive a wedge between the two nations by orchestrating anti-Polish protests in Ukraine as well as attacks against Polish monuments and government buildings.[7] The Kremlin will further enflame ethnic tensions over the coming year to fracture Ukraine and drive wedges between Kyiv and its neighbors in Eastern Europe.

Nationalist Hungarian President Viktor Orban has exploited the Kremlin’s subversion campaign in Western Ukraine to strengthen his own domestic support ahead of Hungary’s April 8 general elections. Orban - who holds a close relationship with Russia - has boosted his nationalist credentials by deliberately escalating tensions with Ukraine.[8] Hungary revived its narrative that Hungarians in Ukraine are under attack from Ukrainian nationalists on March 1.[9] Hungarian organizations in Western Ukraine initially agreed with official statements accusing non-Ukrainians of conducting the attack in Zakharpatiya Oblast on February 27 before switching their narrative to accusing Kyiv of allowing “extremists to strengthen their positions” amidst an alleged “anti-Hungarian campaign” in Ukrainian media.[10] These statements mirror similar narratives peddled by the Kremlin. Hungarian groups further escalated tensions by calling for the OSCE to establish a monitoring office in Western Ukraine on March 7.[11] Orban has sustained a belligerent stance against Kyiv’s decision to require schoolchildren in Ukraine to learn both Ukrainian and their native language since September 2017.[12] Hungary has also attempted to stall Ukraine’s cooperation with Western institutions such as NATO and the EU.[13] Orban’s efforts support Russia’s ongoing campaign in Western Ukraine to drive social cleavages that prevent Ukraine’s integration with the West. Orban likely assesses that this escalation will help him gain electoral support. Orban’s Fidesz Party lost the mayoral race in traditionally pro-Fidesz Homdezovasarhely in Southern Hungary on February 25.[14] Orban will thus continue to fuel this crisis for political gain unless his international partners encourage him to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine.

The Kremlin continued its tradition of leveraging energy as a foreign policy weapon against Ukraine. Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom abruptly disrupted the delivery of natural gas to Ukraine on 01 March in response to a February 28 judicial ruling against Gazprom in favor of Ukrainian energy corporation Naftogaz.[15] Gazprom had been found to owe $2.56 billion to Naftogaz in a dispute over supply disruptions to Ukraine by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.[16] Ukraine immediately signed an agreement with Polish energy corporation PNGiG, stabilizing its energy supply after a week of turmoil.[17] Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev emphasized that “yet another attempt to use gas as a weapon” failed and warned the EU to “consider this case when making their final decision” on Russia’s NordStream 2 Pipeline.[18] Polish and Latvian officials have repeatedly warned against the threats posed to Europe by the NordStream 2 Pipeline.[19] Gazprom’s decision to cut the natural gas supply to Ukraine reinforces Russia’s long-standing strategy to use energy as a weapon against other countries. The U.S. should encourage its European partners to consider Gazprom’s actions against Ukraine before deciding to expand energy ties to Russia through the NordStream 2 and TurkStream pipelines.

The Government of Ukraine’s commitment to reform is simultaneously wavering at the time when it is most required. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government is at risk of failing to approve the creation of an independent anti-corruption court in line with standards set by the IMF and EU.[20] The IMF, EU, and Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) have repeatedly stressed the importance of choosing independent judges for the court via the Public Council of International Experts.[21] The Ukrainian Parliament has nonetheless relegated the council to a de-facto advisory role, undermining the court’s ability to maintain its independence from the Government of Ukraine.[22] Poroshenko asserted that “Ukraine did not do reforms for the IMF [but rather] for the Ukrainian people” and emphasized his government’s success in enacting other important reforms on March 6.[23] The U.S. and its partners must recognize the important progress achieved thus far on reform in Ukraine but sustain pressure on Kyiv to establish an independent anti-corruption court in line with EU, IMF, and NABU recommendations. If Kyiv fails to do so, it will likely fuel public frustration, lose a much-needed tranche of financial support from the IMF, frustrate its international partners, and empower pro-Russia and populist factions in the 2019 elections.

The U.S. and its partners must be willing to both support Ukraine against Russian subversion and simultaneously challenge Kyiv to meet its own reform obligations. The U.S. has taken key steps to support Ukraine, including most recently authorizing the sale of Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missile Systems to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.[24] U.S. military support will help Ukraine defend itself from the Armed Forces of Russia and its proxy forces in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. also extended sanctions on Russia for its ongoing invasion of Eastern Ukraine.[25] The U.S. nonetheless must recognize the multi-faceted nature of Moscow’s campaign against Kyiv, which includes many political and economic, in addition to military, components. The Kremlin will intensify this subversion campaign over the next twelve months before Ukraine’s March 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections. The U.S. must focus its efforts over the next year on enabling effective counter-intelligence operations and tangible reforms in Kyiv lest the coming elections result in a windfall for populist and pro-Russia forces in Ukraine.

[1] “Ministry of Defense: Russia-backed militants fail to respect the recent ceasefire,” uacrisis(.)org, March 6, 2018,
[2] [“Statement of the MFA of Ukraine in connection with the arson premises of the Society of Hungarian culture in Transcarpathia,”] Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 27, 2018,  
[3] “Transnistrian mastermind behind arson at Hungarian NGO in Uzhgorod – Governor Moskal,”, March 5, 2018, https://www.unian(.)info/society/10030982-transnistrian-mastermind-behind-arson-at-hungarian-ngo-in-uzhgorod-governor-moskal.html ; “Molotov cocktail hurled at Hungarians Union building in Uzhgorod,”unian(.)info, February 4, 2018, https://www.unian(.)info/society/2381628-molotov-cocktail-hurled-at-hungarians-union-building-in-uzhgorod.html ; “Building of Hungarian Culture Association burns again in Uzhgorod,”, February 27, 2018, https://112(.)international/ukraine-top-news/building-of-hungarian-culture-association-burns-again-in-uzhgorod-26045.html  
[4] “Poles suspected of arson attack on Hungarian center in Ukraine,”, February 27, 2018, http://thenews(.)pl/1/10/Artykul/351494,Poles-suspected-of-arson-attack-on-Hungarian-centre-in-Ukraine ;
[“Internal Security Agency detained Poles suspected of trying to set fire to the building of the association of Hungarian culture in Ukraine,”], February 27, 2018, https://wiadomosci.onet(.)pl/swiat/abw-zatrzymala-polakow-podejrzanych-o-probe-podpalenia-budynkustowarzyszeniakultury/yw1mdfj?utm_source=wiadomosci_viasg&utm_medium=nitro&utm_campaign=allonet_nitro_new&srcc=ucs&utm_v=2  
[5] “Putin’s Falanga: meet the Polish neo-fascists who tried to burn down a Hungarian center in Ukraine,”, March 5, 2018, http://euromaidanpress(.)com/2018/03/05/the-falanga-group-in-poland-whos-really-behind-the-arson-attacks-on-hungarian-associations-in-uzhhorod/
[6] Nataliya Bugayova, “The Kremlin Targets Ukraine Through Hungary,”, October 31, 2017, ; [“In MVD tied series resonant crime audio band, whose members are detained (added),”] novosti.dn(.)ua, October 2, 2017, http://novosti.dn(.)ua/news/274911-v-mvd-svyazaly-ryad-rezonansnykh-prestuplenyy-s-odnoy-bandoy-uchastnyky-kotoroy-zaderzhany  
[7] “Attack on Poland’s Consulate General in Northwestern Ukraine seen as provocation,”, March 29, 2017, http://euromaidanpress(.)com/2017/03/29/polands-consulate-general-attacked-in-lutsk/ ; ["If Ukraine does not receive a visa-free regime, it will be a scandal" - Ambassador of Poland to Ukraine,”], April 4, 2017, https://lb(.)ua/world/2017/04/04/363012_yakshcho_ukraina_otrimaie_bezvizovogo.html ; Catherine Harris, Franklin Holcomb, Charlie Bacsik, and Charles Frattini III, “Ukraine Update: Russia’s Aggressive Subversion of Ukraine,” ISW Research Blog, August 4, 2017, ; Franklin Holcomb and Kyle Miller, “Moscow Seeks to Destabilize Increasingly Vulnerable Ukraine,” ISW Research Blog, October 10, 2017, ; Benjamin Knudsen, Alexandra Lariiciuc, and Franklin Holcomb, “Ukraine Update: Russia's Active Campaign in Ukraine,” ISW Research Blog, May 12, 2017 ;
“Polish foreign ministry "concerned" over attack on Polish school in Ukraine – media,”, June 1, 2017,
https://www.unian(.)info/society/1953886-polish-foreign-ministry-concerned-over-attack-on-polish-school-in-ukraine-media.html ; “Polish Consulate General in Ukraine’s Lutsk shot at, Consul considers incident "terrorist act",”, March 29, 2017,
https://www.unian(.)info/society/1847584-polish-consulate-general-in-ukraines-lutsk-shot-at-media.html ; Lviv “RSA says 3rd party behind desecration of Polish memorials,”, March 13, 2017, https://www.unian(.)info/society/1819852-lviv-rsa-says-3rd-party-behind-desecration-of-polish-memorials.html  ; “"Useful idiots" both in Poland, Ukraine play into Russia’s hands – Envoy,”, December 11, 2017,
http://www.unian(.)info/politics/2290341-useful-idiots-both-in-poland-ukraine-play-into-russias-hands-envoy.html  ; “Poor Ukrainian-Polish ties benefit Russia: Ukrainian vice-PM,”, February 2, 2018, http://www.thenews(.)pl/1/10/Artykul/347731,Poor-UkrainianPolish-ties-benefit-Russia-Ukrainian-vicePM ; “Ukrainian FM condemns ‘provocation’ after Polish bus damaged near Lviv,”, December 11, 2017, http://thenews(.)pl/1/10/Artykul/339166,Ukrainian-FM-condemns-%E2%80%98provocation%E2%80%99-after-Polish-bus-damaged-near-Lviv ; “Monuments of contention: a study into Russia’s interference in Ukrainian-Polish relations (video),” Inform Napalm, December 5, 2017, https://informnapalm(.)org/en/monuments-of-contention-a-study-into-russias-interference-in-ukrainian-polish-relations-video/ ; [“Overlap road Lviv - Rava-Ruska investigated as incitement of ethnic hatred,”], March 29, 2017,  https://zaxid(.)net/perekrittya_dorogi_lviv__ravaruska_rozsliduyut_yak_rozpalyuvannya_mizhnatsionalnoyi_vorozhnechi_n1421918  
[8]“Putin Tells Hungary's Orban Nuclear Plant Expansion To Start Next Year,” RFE/RL, August 29, 2017 https://www.rferl(.)org/a/putin-hungary-orban-judo/28700669.html ; “Putin’s Hungary Visit Aimed at Cementing Ties With Orban,” Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2017, https://www.wsj(.)com/articles/putins-hungary-visit-aimed-at-cementing-ties-with-orban-1486072262  
[9] “A brutal attack has been launched against national minorities in Ukraine,” Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2018, http://www.kormany(.)hu/en/ministry-of-foreign-affairs-and-trade/news/a-brutal-attack-has-been-launched-against-national-minorities-in-ukraine ;Torn flag in western Ukraine to be last straw for Hungary,”, November 17, 2017, https://dninews(.)com/article/torn-flag-western-ukraine-be-last-straw-hungary ;Ukrainian nationalists threatened the Hungarian minority,”, March 18, 2016, https://visegradpost(.)com/en/2016/03/18/ukrainian-nationalists-threatened-the-hungarian-minority/ ;Ukrainian nationalists tear down, try to burn Hungarian flag (VIDEO),” RT, November 15, 2017, https://www.rt(.)com/news/409884-ukraine-hungary-flag-nationalists/  
[10] Olena Babakova, “Putin’s Falanga: meet the Polish neo-fascists who tried to burn down a Hungarian center in Ukraine,”, March 5, 2018, http://euromaidanpress(.)com/2018/03/05/the-falanga-group-in-poland-whos-really-behind-the-arson-attacks-on-hungarian-associations-in-uzhhorod/ ; [“In the Hungarian association, I am convinced that their office was not blown up by Ukrainians,”], February 27, 2018, http://www.eurointegration(.) “Brenzovych sees the anti-Hungarian campaign in the Ukrainian media as the cause of the incident in the KMKSZ office,”, March 1, 2018, http://uzhgorod(.)in/en/news/2018/mart/brenzovych_sees_the_anti_hungarian_campaign_in_the_ukrainian_media_as_the_cause_of_the_incident_in_the_kmksz_office
[11] [“The Hungarians' Union of Transcarpathia wants to introduce into the region a permanent OSCE mission,”] Pravda, March 7, 2018, https://www.pravda(.)
[12] “Ukraine’s decision is harmful for the Hungarian minority and particularly unfair,” Office of the Prime Minister of Hungary, September 11, 2017, http://www.kormany(.)hu/en/the-prime-minister/news/ukraine-s-decision-is-harmful-for-the-hungarian-minority-and-particularly-unfair
[13] [“Hungary blocked the meeting of Ukraine-NATO Commission,”] Interfax, February 9, 2018, ; Eugen Theise, “Hungary threatens Ukraine's EU ties over new education law,”, October 13, 2017,
[14] Palko Karasz,“Hungary’s Opposition Sees Hope After Orban’s Candidate Falls,” New York Times, February 26, 2018,
[15] “Ukraine 'Stabilizes' Gas Supply Amid Fresh Energy Dispute With Russia,” REF/RL, March 3, 2018, ; “Russia's Gazprom to terminate gas contracts with Ukraine,”, March 3, 2018, ; Vladimir Soldatkin and Natalia Zinets, “Gazprom seeks to halt Ukraine gas contracts as dispute escalates,” Reuters, March 2, 2018
[16] [“Gazprom announces the termination of all treaties with Ukraine,”], March 2, 2018, https://www.depo(.)ua/ukr/politics/gazprom-zayavlyaye-pro-rozirvannya-dogovoriv-z-ukrayinoyu-20180302736499 ; “Ukraine's Naftogaz claims $2.56 billion victory in Gazprom legal battle,” Reuters, February 28, 2018,  “Ukraine's Naftogaz Claims $2.5 Billion Victory In Legal Battle With Gazprom,” RFE/RL, March 1, 2018,
[17] [“Naftogaz and Polish PGNiG signed a gas supply agreement,”] RIA Novosti, March 2, 2018, https://ria(.)ru/economy/20180302/1515634846.html ; “Ukraine 'Stabilizes' Gas Supply Amid Fresh Energy Dispute With Russia,” RFE/RL, March 3, 2018,
[18] “Poland’s PGNiG to supply gas for Naftogaz in Ukraine,” Hydrocarbons Technology, March 6, 2018,  
[19] [“Nord Stream 2 contravenes the principles of the Energy Union - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia,”] ukrinform,ua, March 6, 2018,  https://www.ukrinform(.)ua/rubric-world/2417065-nord-stream-2-superecit-principam-energeticnogo-souzu-mzs-latvii.html; “Nord Stream 2 will make Russo-Ukrainian war more likely: Polish PM,”, February 15, 2018,  http://www.thenews(.)pl/1/10/Artykul/349432,Nord-Stream-2-will-make%20-RussoUkrainian-war-more-likely-Polish-PM
[20] Oleg Sukhov, “Poroshenko puts up more resistance to independent anti-corruption court,” Kyiv Post, March 7, 2018,
[21] “Ukraine Moves Closer To Anticorruption Court, But Doubts Remain,” RFE/RL, March 1, 2018, ; “Successful anti-corruption fight is impossible without the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Court — Artem Sytnyk,” National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, February 22, 2018, ; “Attempts to limit the independence of the NABU will cause irreversible consequences for the fight against corruption in Ukraine,” National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, December 7, 2017,; “In 26 out of 86 NABU’s proceedings the trials have not started yet,” National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, September 11, 2017, ; ;  “IMF mission supports functional independence of NABU,” National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, November 11, 2016,  
[22] Oleg Sukhov, “Lawmakers advance flimsy anti-corruption court,” Kyiv Post, March 2, 2018, https://www.kyivpost(.)com/ukraine-politics/lawmakers-advance-flimsy-anti-corruption-court.html
[23] “President in an interview to Financial Times: We do reforms not for the IMF, but for the Ukrainian people,” Office of the President of Ukraine, March 6, 2018,  
[24] “U.S. State Department Approves 'Javelin' Missile Sale to Ukraine,” RFE/RL, March 2, 2018,
[25] “Executive Order on the President’s Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Ukraine,” The White House, March 2, 2018,